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UPDATED: CEO says Do it Best to add jobs at Electric Works; state pledges up to $1.8M in incentives

Do it Best's world headquarters will occupy most of this building on the former General Electric campus. (Courtesy image)
Do it Best President and CEO Dan Starr address the crowd Thursday in the space that in two years will be his company's headquarters. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Steve McMichael

Calling it “one of the worst kept secrets” in city history, the president and CEO of Do it Best Corp. confirmed his company’s 440-emoployee headquarters will move to Electric Works and create up to 90 additional jobs.

“This will be a different way to work. We want to get the right people working near each other and establish us as the employer of choice,” Dan Starr told Gov. Eric Holcomb, Mayor Tom Henry, project developers and others gathered Thursday afternoon in the cold, cavernous former General Electric building that withing two years will serve as the company’s headquarters.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation offered Do it Best Corp. up to $1.6 million in conditional tax credits and up to $200,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans. These tax credits are performance-based, meaning the company is eligible to claim incentives once Hoosiers are hired.

But if some are disappointed the $230 million project’s anchor tenant is simply shifting employees from one part of Allen County to another, Starr made it clear those jobs probably were going to move somewhere no matter what — and the new address didn’t have to be local.

“It’s increasingly hard to do business in this structure,” Starr said earlier Thursday as he sat in the company’s hulking headquarters in Nelson Road, which has been expanded several times since its 1948 debut. And that’s part of the problem, he said: Part of the building formerly served as a warehouse, but very little trucking happens there today and virtually none will happen once Do it Best moves into 200,000 square feet of the former General Electric campus.

The office areas, too, are not conducive to the kind of collaborative environment that improves efficiency and helps attract and keep employees, Starr said. Compartmentalization forces departments to be scattered throughout several areas, and windows are in short supply. What’s more, Starr said, few people know the international headquarters of a company with 1,600 employees and 3,800 independently owned stores worldwide is even there.

“We’ve been under the radar,” he said — not an asset for companies competing for talent.

As a result, Do it Best had been considering relocation for some time, and Starr and other company executives believe Electric Works will be the perfect fit. As Starr noted, the new headquarters will be much more “open” than the current location, allowing employees to more easily interact. The park-like setting and educational and retail tenants will provide employees with options they do not currently have.

“We were interviewing an applicant for a marketing position who asked, ‘Where do I go to eat?’ ” said Rich Lynch, vice president of marketing. Currently, the nearby options are few.

“We’re proud of our culture here. We believe it’s a great company to work for, but we also want it to be a great place to work at,” added Randy Rusk, communications director.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, who last visited the campus three years ago, called Do it Best’s announcement an “enormous step into the future, a transformational, joyous day. I’m thrilled with Fort Wayne’s vibe, and this is an equation-changer for the state. Success breeds success.”

Mayor Tom Henry, whose support for the project had been questioned in the past by some, noted that the $250 million project repre3sents the largest public-private enterprise in city history and said success in such things “doesn’t come easily. But when something this valuable comes along, it’s worth fighting for. In a few years what a grand statement we’ll make (here).”

Although the company will be vacating New Haven, that city’s mayor was on hand Thursday to wish Do it Best well in its new home.

“It’s said when a company that’s been there 70 years moves, but I’m very confident that by the time they vacate we can find a new tenant for Do it Best’s building,” said Steve McMichael, who took office in January. “I pledge my support to the transition and I am confident that many Do it Best employees will continue to call New Haven home.”

Kevin Erb, spokesman for Electric Works’ developer, RTM Ventures, said Do it Best’s move will do more than allow RTM to comply with its deal with the city, which with other local entities has pledged $65 million in public funds. The presence of 500 or more white-collar, well-paid Do it Best employees should help attract other tenants, especially the commercial ventures that will be needed to make Electric Works a destination spot for the general public. With plans for apartments on the books, some employees could even choose to live there.

Neither Erb nor Starr would disclose details of the company’s lease.

The News-Sentinel first identified Do it Best as the likely anchor tenant Saturday, and Starr officially broke the new to his employees Tuesday. The reaction was overwhelming positive, he said, because workers seemed to understand the move will be good for the company and community alike.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for us,” Starr said.